- L'italiana in Algeri
"L'italiana in Algeri" "(The Italian Girl in Algiers)" is an
operatic " dramma giocoso" in two acts by Gioachino Rossinito an Italian librettoby Angelo Anelli, based on his earlier text set by Luigi Mosca. First performance: Teatro San Benedetto, Veniceon May 22, 1813.
There are several recordings of the opera, which is still regularly performed.
Rossini composed "L'Italiana in Algeri" when he was 21. The opera was composed in either 18 or 27 days, depending on which source one believes (Rossini, not surprisingly, pegged it at 18). It was a notable success and he made progressive changes to the work for later performances in Vicenza, Milan and Naples, during the following two years. The opera is notable for Rossini's mixing of
opera seriastyle in opera buffa. The overture is widely recorded and performed today, known for its distinct opening of slow, quiet pizzicatobasses, leading to a sudden loud burst of sound from the full orchestra. This "surprise" hearkens an early admiration for Joseph Haydn, who's Symphony No. 94in G major "The Surprise Symphony" is so named for the same shocking, semi-comic affect.
In the palace of the
Beyof Algiers. Elvira ( soprano), accompanied by her slave Zulma (mezzo), regrets the loss of the love of her husband, the Turkish Bey Mustafà (bass), while he is exasperated by her persistence. Left alone with Haly (bass), Captain of the Corsairs, Mustafà reveals his plan to marry Elvira off to Lindoro, his Italian slave. The Bey is bored with his submissive harem, desiring a new challenge to his virility: he wants an Italian girl! Haly must find one! Lindoro ( tenor) enters alone and sings about Isabella, his true love, 'Languir per un bella'. Mustafà comes in to explain about Lindoro's impending marriage. The enthusiastic Bey describes the attractions of the match, while Lindoro struggles to refuse.
The scene changes to the seashore where a ship has been wrecked in a storm. Its passengers include Isabella (
contralto), in search of Lindoro, and Taddeo (bass), her travelling companion and would-be lover. Isabella enters with a sorrowful cavatina'Cruda sorte! Amor tiranno!', however she is not afraid and will master the situation. Haly and his men take them prisoner. She passes off Taddeo as her uncle. Haly is delighted to learn she is an Italian! Exactly what the Bey wanted! Left to consider their fate, Isabella is irritated by Taddeo's jealousy of Lindoro, but they resolve to join forces.
Back in the palace, Lindoro and Elvira do not wish to marry, but Mustafà offers Lindoro passage on a ship returning to Italy - if he takes Elvira. Lindoro agrees, admitting a vague possibility of marrying her in Italy. Haly enters with news of the arrival of the Italian beauty. Mustafà is elated, 'Già d'insolito ardore nel petto agitare'.
Surrounded by eunuchs, Mustafà receives Isabella in a grand hall. He is enchanted. At that moment, Lindoro, Elvira and Zulma arrive to say goodbye to Mustafà. Lindoro and Isabella are astonished to come face to face. Recovering herself, Isabella asks about Elvira, learning she is Mustafà's ex-wife, to be remarried to Lindoro!
In the palace. Elvira and Zulma (who have remained in Algiers after all) note Isabella's skill with men. Mustafà reveals his strategy. Lindoro is now installed as Isabella's servant and his informer, Taddeo will also be induced to help. Elvira and Zulma must tell Isabella he is coming to take
Isabella and Lindoro are alone. He explains that he had no intention of marrying Elvira. They agree to escape together and Lindoro sings of his happiness, 'Ah come il cor di giubilo'. Mustafà enters with a reluctant Taddeo, acclaimed by the Turks as 'Lord Kaimakan'. He dislikes interceding with Isabella for the Bey, but is frightened to refuse.
In her apartment, Isabella is dressing in Turkish style. Zulma and Elvira deliver Mustafà's message: he is coming for coffee. Isabella orders three cups. Elvira should wait in a side room. As Mustafà approaches, Isabella sings a romantic cavatina, 'Per lui che adoro'. She will receive him. Mustafà tells Taddeo to leave when he sneezes. Isabella greets Mustafà warmly and he sneezes, but Taddeo ignores the signal. Isabella calls for coffee and then - to Mustafà's horror and amazement - invites Elvira to join them.
Elsewhere in the palace, Haly sings in praise of the women of Italy, 'Le femmine d'Italia'. The Italians enter and Taddeo reveals to a surprised Lindoro that he is not her uncle but her lover, himself unaware of the other man's true identity. Lindoro tells Mustafà that Isabella will declare him her adored 'pappataci' [literally a 'silent eater': a man unable to resist the opposite sex] . This, as Lindoro explains, is an Italian custom and a great honour, as the 'pappataci' enjoy an idyllic life dedicated to eating, drinking and sleeping. Zulma and Haly speculate about Isabella's real intentions and the quantity of alcohol ordered for the ceremony.
In her apartment, Isabella addresses the Italian slaves who will be 'pappataci' in the ceremony. She will lead them to freedom, 'Pensa all patria'. The ceremony begins, Mustafà is delighted with his new honour and changes into appropriate costume. Isabella explains his obligations. He must swear an oath of eating, drinking, and keeping silent, repeating the words after Taddeo. Following that his oath is tested, under provocation by Isabella and Lindoro.
A European ship lies alongside the palace: time to escape! Taddeo finally realizes who Lindoro is, but decides to go along with them anyway. Elvira, Zulma and Haly find the Bey still acting as a mad 'pappataci'. Suddenly recovering his sanity, Mustafà calls his troops but they are all drunk. The Italians bid farewell and Mustafà begs Elvira's forgiveness. No more Italian girls for him!
[This synopsis by Simon Holledge was first published on Opera japonica http://www.operajaponica.org and appears here by permission.]
* [http://www.emmedici.com/hobbies/musica/rossini/libretti/italiana0.htm Emmedici Libretto (italiano soltanto)]
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